Late Wednesday night, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich took to Twitter to say "I do not intend to endorse any presidential candidate. We are interested in engaging both campaigns in open dialogue on issues in technology."
The declaration might appear to have been made out of nowhere. But it followed reports in the media that Krzanich had planned to host a fundraiser for Donald Trump at his home Thursday -- plans that were later scrapped. In an article about the presumptive GOP nominee's "minimal" support in Silicon Valley, the New York Times reported the fundraiser as well as the news that hours later, Intel said the event was cancelled. Another media report said the fundraiser for a candidate known for his anti-immigrant stances prompted "significant outrage within the ranks at Intel." The tech giant has not only touted its significant investments in improving diversity, but was long led by industry icon Andy Grove, who was himself an immigrant and who died earlier this year.
In an email, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said "the event is not taking place due to a scheduling conflict." An Intel spokesperson did not answer questions in an email about why the event was cancelled or who cancelled it, referring to the statement given by Krzanich on Twitter.
If Intel's CEO actually had endorsed Trump, it would be unusual not only because of the candidate's apparent lack of support in Silicon Valley. Another recent report in the Times, using data from the Center for Responsive Politics, found that none of the 200 highest-paid CEOs have yet made contributions to Trump's campaign, though the election is far from over.
Moreover, it's relatively rare for sitting CEOs of major global Fortune 500-level companies to publicly endorse a candidate, says Doug Schuler, an associate professor of business and public policy at Rice University. "Most companies -- especially these big, publicly traded, heavily followed companies where there’s a very public nature to their governance," he says, "are really loathe to participate very much in electoral politics, particularly presidential politics." It has the potential to disappoint employees, drive away customers and even sour relationships politically if the opposing party wins, he says. "It’s a two-party system. If you go out and you really back one side, you risk the other side."
That hardly means it doesn't happen. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has said he's backing Hillary Clinton. Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, is supporting Donald Trump. Other investors or business leaders have cast their lots publicly with either side. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen tweeted "#ImWithHer" and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said she supports Clinton, while Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone has said he'll support Trump, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is expected to serve as a Trump delegate. But others are sticking to commenting on the election cycle or just making it clear who they don't support. (HP Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, for instance, has had some very harsh words for Trump.)
When they do make public endorsements, there can be fallout. After NASCAR CEO Brian France endorsed Donald Trump earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that he had to have conversations with sponsors to "clarify things." He told the AP that "I was, frankly, very surprised, that my diversity efforts for my whole career would have been called into question, over this, in my view, a routine endorsement."
Of course, many CEOs make their preferences known with their dollars, even if they don't with their words, whether through contributions directly to political campaigns or to outside groups. Brian Richter, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says his research shows that when it comes to the capped personal contributions, which are given directly to political campaigns, nearly 69 percent of the CEOs in his data gave to candidates in both parties in the same election cycle, with a marginally higher number giving only to Republican candidates.
Still, it's not necessarily clear whether those apparently neutral donations are personally motivated or influenced by the company's goals, he says. He hopes to do future research that connects CEO campaign donations with voting patterns.
"It would be interesting to see how frequently people who make big campaign contributions actually show up and vote," he said.
While we may never know how most CEOs actually did cast their ballots, one recent survey by Fortune Magazine offers one snapshot of how at least a few of them intend to vote. On Wednesday, the magazine said it sent surveys to all the CEOs of the Fortune 500 list, and 55 of them answered a question about who they plan to support in the 2016 election. Of that small group, 58 percent said Clinton, and 42 percent said Trump.